The skills you need for a stronger second run

By Kaye Lopez

Do you find yourself constantly dying on the second run of a duathlon? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Based on the Pure Barley Duathlon race results during Sante Barley Domination held in Clark International Speedway last February 15, about 95 percent of the field ran more than two minutes slower in the second 4K run compared with the first. The elite men were only able to keep their second run within 1.5 minutes of their first. Does that make running within a minute of your first run split a lofty and impossible goal?

The answer is no, or at the very least, it’s possible to develop skills you need to keep your average pace on your second run. This is a unique and vital element of duathlon fitness because you rely primarily on your lower extremities. So how do you train your leg muscles to withstand fatigue until the end? Here are three skills you must focus on to achieve your goal of finishing strong in your next short-distance duathlon. 

Build Your Base

Endurance is the ability to delay the onset and reduce the effects of fatigue. As an endurance athlete, this should form the foundation of your training. To prepare your legs for the demands of a short-distance duathlon and keep you running strong until the second run, your longest run during the base period, which is the early part of your season, should more or less equate to your projected time for your target race.

To prepare your legs for the demands of a short-distance duathlon and keep you running strong until the second run, your longest run during the base period, which is the early part of your season, should more or less equate to your projected time for your target race

If you’re expecting to finish a 4-25-4K event in 1.5 hours, gradually build your long run until the duration peaks at 90 minutes. The best way to approach this run is to do the first 60 minutes at easy to moderate pace then run continuously at tempo pace for the remaining 30 minutes. This will get your legs ready for more race-specific brick training the closer you get to race day.

Use the Force

Force is the ability to overcome resistance. This is a common limiter among lean and small-framed athletes. If you struggle going against the wind on a flat bike course or suffer on a hilly run course, hit the gym year-round, especially during the early part of the season when training volume is relatively low. Note that strength training has a more significant effect on building cycling fitness compared to running. That said, force development on the bike translates to fresher legs for the second run. Recommended duathlon-specific exercises include squats, leg presses, and step-ups for hip extension; hamstring curls, knee extensions, and heel raises depending on personal weakness; seated rows, chest presses. push-ups, lat pull-downs, and standing rows for the upper body. Include abdominal twists to strengthen your core.

If you struggle going against the wind on a flat bike course or suffer on a hilly run course, hit the gym year-round, especially during the early part of the season when training volume is relatively low

Put Two and Two Together

Combine aforementioned skills and what you have is muscular endurance: the muscles’ ability to maintain a relatively high force load for a prolonged period of time. This is the advanced skill you need for a stronger second run split. Referring back to the 90-minute long run, this workout evolves into a more race-specific brick session best done two to four weeks from race day. This 90-minute key workout starts with a 15-minute run building up to tempo pace, followed by a 60-minute ride including a 10-kilometer time trial at goal-race effort, and ends with a 15-minute run at goal-race pace.

Add a few minutes of cool down by jogging or walking and stretching after. Make sure you have the necessary base fitness before attempting this workout to avoid getting sick or injuring yourself. Treat this as a dress rehearsal for your A-priority race and as an opportunity to test your pacing and nutrition strategy, bike set-up, running shoes, and other gear you plan to use on race day.

Duathlons tend to be more physically taxing compared to triathlons so training your body, especially your running legs, to be resilient to fatigue is key to a strong finish. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for your next duathlon race and you’re on your way to your best second run split and a new personal best.